MIWC Team Travels to Tajikistan
First music ministry workshop of its kind held in Tajikistan since the break up of the Soviet Union
New ties established with believers in predominantly Muslim country where those under 18 take risk coming to church
MIWC Associates Serhiy Bilokin and Vitaliy Bolgar have been down this road before.
and now to Asia... and Tajikistan.
Together they have traveled from their native Ukraine and broken down walls with music ministry in country after country, teaching, but also learning themselves – learning how people relate to and worship God in different languages and cultures; learning how to point people to Christ in their unique circumstances; and learning to serve in step with each other, picking up the reins for one another when needed.
Rich with experiences on which to draw, they made their latest trip into a new country for MIWC – Tajikistan – and found their history working together created an ideal ministry team.
"It was a huge blessing to travel together with Vitaliy," said Bilokin.
"Christ sent his disciples into ministry in pairs and our ministry together was a wonderful example of working together and continuing that ministry which we’ve been doing for many years. [...] When one of us was tired or needed to have a break, it was always convenient to have the other brother step in, so we both thank you for the blessing and for your trust in beginning this ministry."
Bilokin and Bolgar traveled to the capital city of Dushanbe, where they met each day with a group of 33 people from Dushanbe Central Baptist Church to hold a music ministry workshop, the first one of its kind in the area since the break up of the Soviet Union.
A part of the former U.S.S.R., the majority Muslim Tajikistan gained its independence in 1991. An estimated 90% of the population of 8 million people identifies as Muslim – 85% Sunni and 5% Shia. About 150,000 people identify as Christians, with Russian Orthodox as the largest group.
This financially poor country is about the size of Wisconsin and boasts a mountainous terrain. Its economy is dominated by mining, agriculture and a reliance on remittances from its citizens who work outside of the country. According to the CIA Factbook, more than a million Tajik citizens work abroad, mostly in Russia, and send money home to their family members in Tajikistan equal to nearly half of the country's gross domestic product (GDP.)
Tajikistan is also young.
More than half of the country is under the age of 24.
n 2011, Tajkistan's government passed a law referred to as the "Parental Responsibility Law," which banned those under age 18 from participating in public religious activities – whether at a mosque or a church. The country's efforts to combat Islamic extremism led to this across the board encroachment on religious worship rights.
According to the U.S. State Department's 2013 International Religious Freedoms Report, while Tajikistan's constitution protects religious freedom, "other laws and policies restrict religious freedom, and in practice, the government enforced some of those restrictions."
Even with the threat of government enforcement ever present, the group still saw young people there every day.
"Our purpose," Bilokin said, "was to inspire the people and also to provide them with practical training that could give each individual present an understanding of the biblical view of music ministry and also to demonstrate to them what their individual responsibility was in this, and of course, to show them the importance of training."
Starting around 9 each morning, they worked until almost 10 every night. The local music ministry leader (and kindergarten music teacher), 21-year-old Yevgeniy, handled the majority of the responsibilities for coordinating the event locally.
Private lessons and group studies were available to all and included instruction in vocal methods and practicum, beginning-level conducting, basics of working with a choir, biblical principles of music ministry, music ministry and preparing for Sunday music ministry in the church.
By the end of the workshop, the church members welcomed the MIWC team to return, possibly later in the year. Seeing a clear need for a music ministry in Dushanbe, the MIWC pair thoughtfully considered the challenges as well.
Not surprisingly in such a poor country, the financial resources are either extremely limited or non-existent for the churches' people. Current church members are almost all new believers, following several waves of departure from the church. This leaves the church bodies lacking in experience and spiritual authority.
While they lack funds and experience, this group of believers in Tajikistan is blessed with the ability to learn new material very quickly. Bilokin and Bolgar said this was thanks to the oral tradition of musical creativity in the church. Church and church association leadership fully supported the training. The local Dushanbe church is also filled with young people, especially young men, who are already skilled in playing guitar and other folk instruments. Among them are several who show great potential to lead.
After returning home and reflecting on their trip, Bilokin said he was moved to pray more for Tajikstan and its neighboring countries.
"They have their own geopolitical war going on, and it’s both spiritual and geographical, said Bilokin.
"But," he added, "we believe and already know what God has said: that is my land and I will give it to them. May God bless us!"
(Tajikistan information source: CIA Factbook)